One sniff of that citrusy fresh scent and you're transported back to 1998 standing in a Bath & Body Works spraying Cucumber Melon all over yourself before heading out to explore the rest of the mall. Our sense of smell is interwoven into our memories, and there's nothing like a specific smell to bring you back in time. Revisit your teenage years or recall cherished memories from your childhood with these vintage perfumes everyone had to buy.
Chanel's Chanel No. 5
If you know any vintage perfume, it's Chanel No. 5. Released in 1921, this new fragrance was meant to embody Coco Chanel's new vision of modern womanhood. Legend has it that the perfumer, Ernest Beaux, who presented Chanel with 10 different bottles labeled them 1-5 and 20-24. Chanel picked out No. 5, and the rest is history. The perfume has a clean citrus smell with a woody undertone.
Although it was popular in its own right, it was Marilyn Monroe's signature scent, and that made it the most iconic vintage fragrance ever. Take a whiff of the rectangular bottle at any perfume counter and envision yourself as an elegant actress. Or buy a 1.2-ounce. bottle from Chanel's website for $90, at the very cheapest.
Top Notes: Aldehydes, ylang-ylang, neroli, bergamot, and lemon
Middle Notes: Iris, jasmine, rose, orris root, and lily-of-the-valley
Base Notes: Civet, sandalwood, musk, amber, moss, vetiver, vanilla, and patchouli
Guerlain's Shalimar Eau de Parfum
Guerlain's Shalimar was the fragrance that launched Oriental scents in 1925. According to Guerlain's website, Jacques Guerlain was "inspired by the passionate love story between an emperor and an Indian princess" when he was making this heady perfume. Nowadays, this perfume's gone down in history as one of the most iconic vintage scents. Just about every socialite and actress during the early and mid-20th century tried their hand at wearing it, and you can too for $115.
Top Notes: Bergamot, lemon, mandarin orange, and cedar
Middle Notes: Iris, vetiver, patchouli, jasmine, and rose
Base Notes: Leather, vanilla, incense, opopanax, benzoin, sandalwood, civet, Peru balsam, and musk
Estee Lauder's Youth-Dew
Estee Lauder invented Youth-Dew in 1953 as an everyday alternative to the customary 'date-night and special occasion' perfumes that had come out prior. A spicy perfume, this scent was a great alternative to the other flowery and powdery smells that took over the 1950s. You can still find Youth-Dew today at any department store that sells Estee Lauder, or on their website for a mere $44.
Top Notes: Rose, jonquil, lavender
Middle Notes: Jasmine, muguet, spices
Base Notes: Moss, vetiver, patchouli
Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy's relationship went down in history as one of the most lucrative partnerships between the fashion industry and Hollywood. On top of helping craft her signature look, Givenchy also made her the face of a custom perfume in 1958 - long before brands used celebrity ambassadors to sell their scents.
Thanks to this collaboration, L'Interdit took off in a huge way. For how big it was in the late-50s and early 1960s, it's not a scent that many people remember today. Yet, with a reimagined formula in 2018, new noses everywhere can enjoy this sensual floral perfume for $66.
Top Notes: Orange, bergamot, mandarin
Middle Notes: Tuberose, jasmine, and orange blossom
Base Notes: Vetiver, patchouli, cistus flower, musk, and sandalwood
Yves Saint Laurent's Opium
French designer Yves Saint Laurent shocked the beauty industry with his incredibly seductive perfume and sensually charged ad campaign; of course, such an uproar is only expected with a controversial name like Opium. This Oriental perfume was released alongside his Chinese-inspired Autumn-Winter collection in 1977.
According to the Paris Yves Saint Laurent Museum, the perfume sales racked in $30,000,000 across Europe in the first year alone. For decades, this heady, seductive perfume was marketed as everyone's favorite bedroom scent, and it sold incredibly well. Today, Black Opium is YSL's new brainchild, though you can still purchase the original perfume on their website for $77.
Top Notes: Clove, pepper, coriander, West Indian bay, plum, jasmine, mandarin orange, and bergamot
Middle Notes: Carnation, cinnamon, sandalwood, patchouli, orris root, rose, peach, and lily-and-the-valley
Base Notes: Incense, myrrh, sandalwood, tolu balsam, amber, opopanax, benzoin, labdanum, vanilla, musk, castoreum, cedar, vetiver, and coconut
Elizabeth Taylor's White Diamonds
If you fell asleep with your television on in the 1990s, at some point you woke up to the flashy pseudo-gambling sequence where Elizabeth Taylor's diamond earring saves the day in her White Diamonds commercial. White Diamonds came out in 1991 and was a pretty affordable scent. Its strong florals evoke Taylor's own hedonistic adventures throughout Old Hollywood, and who doesn't love a flashy bottle with fake diamonds circling it, anyway?
After Taylor's death, Elizabeth Arden purchased the rights to White Diamonds, and thanks to them, you can enjoy the '90s perfection today. It's still an incredibly affordable scent, at around $20-$30 a bottle.
Top Notes: Aldehydes, neroli, orange, lily, and bergamot
Middle Notes: Egyptian tuberose, cinnamon, jasmine, Turkish rose, ylang-ylang, narcissus, carnation, and Italian orris root
Base Notes: Amber, oakmoss, sandalwood, patchouli, and musk
Calvin Klein's CK One
The overpowering smell of Elizabeth Taylor's White Diamonds stands in great contrast to Calvin Klein's CK One unisex perfume. Launched in 1994, the New York Times calls this perfume the "ultimate anti-1980s, anti-Boomer scent, a riposte to the show performances of the Dynasty and Wall Street years." As the first unisex fragrance, it broke molds and records, having profits in the millions by the end of the first year.
It was the perfect scent for a rebellious period, where teenagers wanted nothing to do with their parents' overly manicured looks. They wanted to be edgy and unrestrained by social norms, and CK One was a perfect response to that. It's still a delicious everyday scent for anyone to wear, and you can buy a bottle for $65.
Top Notes: Bergamot, lemon, mandarin, fresh pineapple, papaya, cardamom, green tree accord
Middle Notes: Violet, rose, and lily-of-the-valley
Base Notes: Green tea, Oakmoss, cedarwood, and sandalwood
Can You Wear Vintage Perfume?
You can absolutely spritz yourself with vintage perfume. Unlike vintage cosmetics that are generally not safe to be slathered all over your face, perfumes can be used for decades after they were bottled. However, you'll notice that a lot of vintage perfumes that are for sale have a fraction of their original amount. This normally happens for one of two reasons: someone used the perfume a lot before passing it on, or the perfume had a high alcohol content and a lot of it has evaporated.
Yet, perfumes can turn sour or oxidize after a few years. This can happen thanks to chemical instability in the oil compounds, improper storing, and oxygen getting into the bottle. The first things to be affected are the top notes' smells, and you also might notice the liquid becoming darker with discoloration. In this case, it's best not to use them on your skin.
Thanks to reformulations, you could end up being allergic to older bottles of perfumes that you wear today. Do a single spritz of a test patch on a small section of your skin and wait to see if there's a reaction before committing to wearing anything from a vintage bottle.
How Valuable Are Vintage Perfume Bottles?
Vintage perfumes are a beauty collectible that's both inexpensive and very expensive. Naturally, there are a few things that'll make a vintage perfume worth more:
- The perfume has been discontinued. There are so many past perfumes that aren't made anymore, and because you can't find them anywhere, vintage bottles with some leftover are valuable thanks to how rare they are.
- The perfume was originally pricey. If the perfume cost a lot when it was first released, it normally costs a lot when it becomes vintage. You can chalk this up to brand awareness, reputation, and the quality of ingredients they used.
- The perfume has some celebrity connection. Certain perfumes, especially vintage varieties, sell for a lot because celebrities were known to wear them. The classic example is Chanel No. 5, Marilyn Monroe's signature scent.
These vintage perfumes can get seriously pricey. If you're not a dedicated fragrance collector, we recommend that you look at buying vintage samples first because those run about $20-$40 apiece, as opposed to the full-sized bottles that can run hundreds of dollars. For example, YSL manufactured several perfumed products in their Opium line, and their long-since discontinued perfume powder is very hard to find. One unopened box is currently listed on Etsy for $550.
Nothing Smells as Sweet as the Past
You don't have to have been born at the turn of the century to recognize these vintage perfumes. Your grandparents, teachers, hair dresses, and maybe even yourself, wore these signature scents, and now they're burned into your good 'ole olfactory system. So, if you want to relive your high school days one more time or see if you're finally mature enough to wear your grandmother's perfume well, these iconic vintage perfumes are a great place to start.